Tidewater Gardening - March 2010


Hurry Up Spring!!
K. Marc Teffeau


Having dug out of 2 feet plus of snow in the first weekend in February – enough already! And, as I write this, another storm is forecast. The Old Farmer’s Almanac is calling for more snow throughout February. With all this snow there will surely be physical damage to trees and shrubs in the landscape. On some of the milder days in March you will need to get out and do some winter pruning to shape up plants with broken branches and limbs.
ANLA (the American Nursery and Landscape Association) held its annual Management Clinic in Louisville, Kentucky, again this year from January 31st through February 2nd. Part of the program is the annual “New Plant Pavilion” feature in cooperation with NM Pro Magazine. This year 51 new plant introductions from 23 companies were shown. There was an amazing cross-section of new ornamental plants that are being introduced into the gardening marketplace including trees, flowering shrubs, foliage plants and perennials. Clinic attendees were asked to “vote” on their favorite introduction.
All the plants were “winners” in my opinion, but there were a couple of ones in which I was especially interested. We are all familiar with the diminutive Japanese maple (Acer palmatum) with its lace-like foliage. The standard Japanese maple has an upright and spreading habit, as it is a small tree.
A new weeping form of this tree has been introduced, Acer palmatum ‘Ryusen.’ This cultivar is from Japan and has a rapid growth pattern. If you want a small tree for a narrow place in the landscape ‘Ryusen’ matures at 5 feet wide. It has bright orange to yellow fall color and does best in full sun to partial shade.
Thujas, a.k.a. arborvitaes, have been a “bread and butter” evergreen landscape plant for many years. As landscaping tastes have changed, these plants have tended to fall out of favor as gardeners are looking for more color in the landscape. A new Thuja introduction, Thuja Fire chief ‘Congabe” may be the ticket to reintroduce this venerable species back into foundation plantings. This arborvitae has fiery orange-red tipped foliage that really sets it apart and it will grow well in our area. Fire Chief is a naturally rounded, low-maintenance shrub that will mature to 4 feet high and 4 feet in width. It produces its best color in full sun.
Another staple of the landscape, Nandina domestica or Heavenly bamboo now has three new editions to its landscape palette. ‘Aka’ Blush Pink, ‘Murasaki’ Flirt and ‘Seika’ Obsession are all from Magnolia Gardens Nursery and part of the Southern Living Plant Collection. These three cultivars were discovered as ‘sports’ or genetic variations of other Nandinas – ‘Firepower,’ N. Harbour Dwarf’ and ‘N. Gulf Stream.’ The cultivar name ‘Aka’ means red in Japanese. This plant had red-pink new growth and the plant will grow to a height and width of 3 feet at maturity.
‘Murasaki’ means purple in Japanese and this plant has purple-red new growth. It is a smaller plant and will grow to a height and width of 2 feet at maturity,
‘Seika’ is between ‘Aka’ and ‘Murasaki’ in size at 2½ feet at maturity. ‘Seika’ means sacred fire and this plant’s new foliage is bright red and upright.
Not to be outdone, new perennial varieties were also on display at the New Plant Pavilion. If you are looking for an interesting plant to provide color in shady environments, Heucherella ‘Sweet tea’ would be a good choice> generally known as Foamy bells, this specific plant provides mounds of cinnamon and paprika-orange foliage to a height of about 20 inches. It takes the summer heat and humidity very well in our area and is recommended for use in woodland gardens, containerized, massed and naturalized plantings.
Aloe hybrid ‘Christmas Carol’ is not hardy in our area but it would be a neat container plant, or used in a dry bed planting around a patio. It is a flowering succulent – the plant’s orange flowers on long stalks were present when I saw it in Louisville and make it a very attractive addition to the plant display. This is a small-sized aloe that has a great color combination. The leaves on the plant almost make it look like a red fringed star. The deep green leaves, trimmed in bright red, also feature vibrant red spots along the center of the leaves. Put it in 4- to 6-inch pots indoors or outdoors.
Most of the time, when bamboo is mentioned in the landscape, it is either preceded or followed with some type of curse word. We are all familiar with invasive bamboos that get out of hand, spread into unwanted areas and cannot be nuked with Roundup. However, there a number of clumping bamboos that do not spread and are well behaved.
Clumping bamboos can be used as a solitary specimen, hedge or screen. One new cultivar at the New Plant Pavilion was Fergesia nitida ‘Isle of Man’ Great Wall. This non-invasive clumper is an upright graceful plant with new shoots emerging in late summer. It has a unique fountain form and it grows up to 15 feet high and 12 feet wide. If you plan to use this, or any clumping bamboo in the landscape, you need to give it room.
With everything covered in 3 feet plus of snow in February, it is hard to think about the vegetable garden but greens – especially spinach – can be sown in March. Since most varieties give out in warm weather, plant them every week for three or four weeks to have a good, fresh supply coming up until June.
Don’t forget that we can also direct seed other cool season crops in March including peas, carrots, beets, turnips and parsnips. And don’t forget the lettuce! There are so many new and different mixes of salad lettuce varieties available now with different textures and flavors, so get creative in your seed choices.
You can tackle the perennial bed in March if the ground is not too wet. Divide and transplant summer- and fall-blooming perennials like astilbe, aster, bleeding heart, coral bells, daylilies, phlox and Shasta daisies. Remember to network the beds before replanting, adding compost, lime and fertilizer if needed. If you plan extensive bed restoration, get a soil test done on the bed before starting so you know just the right amount of lime and fertilizer to add. Go easy on the fertilizer, however, as perennials don’t require a whole lot.
If you want to spice up the annual bed, many annual flowers are very frost hardy when the plants are small. You can sow the seeds of alyssum, California poppy, candytuft, larkspur, pansy, viola, phlox, pinks, Shirley poppy, snapdragons, stock and sweet pea as soon as the soil has thawed.
March is an excellent time to plant trees in the landscape. Many of the trees from the garden center come as field-grown balled and burlapped stock, although we are seeing more container-grown trees in the marketplace.
If it is a B & B tree you will need to pay close attention to the burlap around the root ball. It may look like burlap but in fact could be a brown plastic material. These synthetic materials enclosing the roots of trees and shrubs must be completely removed before the plant is placed in the ground. If you purchase balled and burlapped plants, to be on the safe side, remove the material covering the root ball. If the tree is very heavy, peel the material down to the bottom of the hole and cut it off, if you can’t remove it completely.
Happy Gardening!!